What I Learned From Running Two Marathons Back to Back

The Chicago and New York City Marathons were three weeks apart—and I tried to tackle both.

I did something that may be perceived by some as a bit crazy: I decided to run the TCS New York City Marathon yesterday… just three weeks after completing the Chicago Marathon. Why? Well, as a runner living in New York, it’s hard not to feel the energy and excitement in the weeks leading up to our city’s marathon. It’s palpable—from the inspirational ads on the subway, to the thousands of tourists from around the world who flood our streets in their running gear, to the marathon route flags that go up in Central Park weeks in advance.

I knew that I would be out there watching on Marathon Sunday—so I spoke to Jenny Hadfield, running coach and co-author of Running for Mortals and Marathoning for Mortals to find out if it’d be possible to participate instead, even though I’d just finished Chicago.

Her take: sure. People do way crazier things. (Case in point: The Walt Disney World “Dopey Challenge”—you run a 5-K, 10-K, half-marathon, and full marathon in one weekend. Another example: A friend once ran 12 marathons in 12 days for a charity—and he’s not a pro runner.) Plus, Hadfield pointed out, I’d already put in the training.

That said, experts do recommend making some changes to your training plan if you’re going from one race straight to the other. Hadfield and Andrew Kastor, ASICS running coach and coach of the Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth Lakes, California, let me know how to fully recover from one marathon while maintaining my endurance and fitness levels for the next:

Change #1: Adjust Your Expectations
I had an ambitious goal in Chicago (running a sub-4:00 marathon)—that I accomplished. But Hatfield told me pre-race that my goal for New York should simply be to finish. In other words: I wasn’t going to try to win or break any records. “Because your body has run a marathon recently, it’s wise to go with what the day brings, run by effort rather than pace, and keep an open mind,” she says.

MORE: 25 Signs You’re Crazy About Running

Change #2: Keep Interim Training Light
Hadfield helped me lay out my training plan for the three weeks in between my races. I was surprised to hear that I wasn’t supposed to actually run any longer than seven miles between the two races and instead was to focus on getting in a few shorter runs during the weekdays and a slightly longer one on each weekend. “You want to recover actively,” says Hadfield. She told me to consider Chicago my longest training run for NYC.

Change #3: Focus on Recovery
“When we are trying to get our body to bounce back quickly, we need to put in a little extra effort and think ahead,” says Kastor. He told me that between races, I was to keep my nutrition game up more than usual, focusing on getting plenty of protein, healthy fats, and lots of produce. He also said I should “think of this time as treating yourself.” Excellent. Foam rolling and massage therapy are both great ways to do just that—and to help speed recovery. But I was surprised to hear that I should hold off for two to three days post-race. “Waiting 48 hours will help you to avoid compressing very sore muscle tissue,” says Kastor. “Let the soreness subside before getting a massage or using a foam roller.” Then, I was to roll out major muscle groups daily to help knead out tension that could have prolonged my recovery period.

Change #4: Get Your Shuteye—Really
You know sleep is critical to, well, everything. But it’s especially important when you’ve just stressed your body through exercise, says Kastor.  Even if you can’t afford to normally log eight to nine hours, you should make time for it during the nights between races, Kastor told me. He also recommends frequent napping.

MORE: 11 Ways Running Is Great for Your Health

…Which brings us to yesterday, when I put all of this advice to the test. The end result? Success! I ran the TCS New York City Marathon in four hours and 25 minutes. It felt amazing to cross that finish line—my second marathon finish line in three weeks.

Race number two was not smooth sailing. The NYC Marathon course starts on the Verrazano Bridge in Staten Island, and I honestly felt like I was going to fly off the side of the bridge due to fierce winds. (The race organizers actually decided to start the wheelchair racers on the other side of the bridge as a precaution!) Luckily, the gusts were less intense once I arrived safely on the other side of the bridge in Brooklyn, but they didn’t die down entirely. Plus, NYC’s cityscape is notoriously more undulating than the pancake-flat Chicago course. Those challenges made it all the more satisfying to finish, albeit a bit slower than I had hoped (secretly, I admit—after all, Hadfield had told me not to set any expectations!).

Now I plan to give my body a break by continuing to focus on recovery and sleep over the next few weeks. Of course, that’s not to say I’m not already dreaming up my next challenge!

MORE: The 9 Must-Know Rules of Carbo-Loading 

 

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